Tacoma explores required recall rights for hotel workers

Tacoma City Council is exploring an ordinance that would require hotels in Tacoma with 60 rooms or more to provide recall rights to workers laid off during the pandemic.

The proposed ordinance, brought to City Council for discussion at a meeting on Tuesday, would sunset in March 2021 unless extended by Council. It would require hotels to:

Provide written notice to laid-off employees of job positions that become available for which those employees are qualified, and

Offer available positions to the laid-off employees with the greatest length of service for the hotel.

City Council decided Tuesday to first run the idea through the Economic Development Committee to determine how the ordinance would impact workers and the hotel industry.

“It was sent to EDC because it wasn’t simple and begged for greater vetting and understanding,” said Council member Robert Thoms, who also chairs the EDC. “As we work to schedule discussions on this issue, I truly hope our hotels can effectively and safely reopen and our workers can get back to work.”

The proposal was brought forward by Council member Lillian Hunter after former workers at Hotel Murano, operated by Provenance Hotels, spoke at a City Council meeting on Sept. 22.

The workers sought the Council’s help to implement recall rights, which allow laid-off workers to be recalled to their former jobs when they become available. The workers, represented by Unite Here Local 8, had recall rights in their contracts, but they expired mid-September, they said.

“My family and I have counted on this Hotel Murano for my family’s second income,” Stephen Reeves, a 17-year banquet bartender at Hotel Murano, told City Council in September. “It’s just heartbreaking to hear what we are hearing about Hotel Murano’s desire to rid itself of all the experience that has made this hotel what it is.”

Unite Here Local 8 represents more than 100 workers at the Hotel Murano and is in support of the ordinance, and not just for its own unionized workers.

“We think a hotel recall ordinance is a fair proposition for workers and the industry to make sure workers get back to work as business starts to return,” Maris Zivarts, research director for Unite Here Local 8, told The News Tribune by phone Oct. 13. He added that workers will gather for a vigil at 7 p.m. Monday outside of Tacoma City Hall in support of laid off hotel workers.

Mark Filipini, outside counsel for Hotel Murano, told The News Tribune in a phone interview Oct. 15 that formal negotiations with the union representing the workers could take place in the next few weeks.

“When I talk to the HR director, and others, the employees are really well liked, they’re long-term staff,” Filipini said. “Yes it’s true the recall rights have expired, but I haven’t heard any plan to replace the employees wholesale or anything like that. I think they are an important part of the business.”

The state’s Employment Security Department in June first made public the temporary layoffs of Hotel Murano workers. It listed 133 workers affected starting March 13.

The announcement was part of a wave of industry layoffs announced statewide at that time by the state ESD, with job losses still being incurred. For the week of Oct. 4, increases in initial regular unemployment claims were primarily in manufacturing and accommodation and food service, according to the state ESD. Accommodation and food services registered 2,234 initial regular claims, up 22 percent from the previous week.

Sarah Reeves, former banquet server at the Hotel Murano for 27 years and wife to Stephen Reeves, was laid off in March after the hotel closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sarah Reeves told The News Tribune on Oct. 14 that what stood out to her in the layoff letter was that there was no guarantee she’d get her job back if the hotel were able to reopen.

“I’m a two-time cancer survivor, and I have a disabled son,” said Reeves, 63. “My insurance is very important to me and my family.”

Council member Hunter told The News Tribune that the workers were hurting and just wanted the reassurance that they’d be recalled to their jobs when the hotel reopened.

“That didn’t strike us as unreasonable,” Hunter said.

Hunter said that other hoteliers across the state generally practice recall rights, and that she’s only heard concerns from workers at Hotel Murano.

Other hotels with more than 60 rooms in Tacoma include the Marriot downtown and La Quinta Inn & Suites.

Hunter emphasized that the intent of the ordinance is not to control any bargaining between the union and the hotel but to ensure a “minimum employment standard,” or basic rights for employees.

“Normally, we, as a city and council would not engage in employer agreements — we don’t engage in collective bargaining agreements or weigh in on that,” Hunter said on Oct. 13. “But we understand that these are unprecedented times, there’s long-term impacts and we want to help people that are hurting.”

The Washington Hospitality Association does not support a recall ordinance.

“Tacoma hotels are working hard amid the pandemic to reopen safely and return employees to work as soon as possible and as such, we do not believe it is appropriate for a city to pass an ordinance intervening in an ongoing contract negotiation between a single hotel and its union,” spokesperson Jacque Coe said in an email.

Filipini told The News Tribune in a phone interview Oct. 15 that while Provenance had no comment on the ordinance, “it looks from my first read of the ordinance that there’s a carve out for businesses that haven’t pledged an effective collective bargaining agreement. So I expect we’ll be talking about all these things in negotiations. But there are no official comments (from Provenance) on the ordinance.”

As for a timeline for negotiations, “We’re hoping to start in a few weeks. … like every other client I would assume that they’d want me to go as quickly as possible but …. I don’t have a sense yet how long this will go,” Fillipini said.

“I certainly don’t think this is a go-on-for-years sort of thing but again, I just can’t predict.”

Filipini was retained by Provenance over the summer and has also represented the city in matters, as has his firm, K&L Gates.

For now, the hotel remains closed indefinitely. A note that appears on its booking page says: “Dream now. Travel to us later. While our doors remain closed at this time, our hearts are hopeful with the promise of welcoming you again.”

Allison Needles covers city and education news for The News Tribune in Tacoma. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Debbie Cockrell has been with The News Tribune since 2009. She reports on business and development, local and regional issues.

Source Article